May 7, 1999 — Hokkaido
Sato: Even on the very day I was accepted into the group, they were angry with me. My mom and dad had never gotten angry with me as they raised me, and yet, when I was at the training camp or when I was accepted as a member… the staff were constantly angry with me. I didn’t even understand why — I just thought, “I guess adults all just hate me.“
The Airheaded Girl from Hokkaido
— When you first applied for the auditions, you weren’t even particularly a fan of Morning Musume, were you?
Sato: I didn’t know much about them. There was a leaflet about the audition at my ballet school, so I looked them up and watched “Maji desu ka Ska!” Sayashi Riho’s dancing was incredible, Tanaka Reina’s singing was so pretty, and my parents suggested I give it a shot and see what this world is all about. So I just applied without much thought behind it.
— What with everyone else around you being so serious about it, I would imagine you felt a little out-of-place…
Sato: The auditions lasted for around half a year, and I was just thinking about how long it was taking. They got unbelievably angry with me at the training camp. My mom had sent me off there, telling me to go and have fun. And so even though I was only trying to have some fun, they wouldn’t let me at all.
May 28, 1998 — Hiroshima
2011/01/02 ~ 2015/12/31
Sayashi: Back when I was still a kindergartener and I had no vision for my future whatsoever, I got to dance at the center of the stage at our arts festival to “Go Girl ~Koi no Victory~.” I had a lot of people complimenting me and I had so much fun doing it. It made me feel like I was glowing. That was the moment I decided: “I want to be in Morning Musume!“
— That Morning Musume song is what started it all for you.
Sayashi: I told my parents that I wanted to start dancing, and I’m from a very music-loving family so they immediately agreed and I enrolled in an “actors school” in Hiroshima.
— From the very beginning you were dancing in the center at your arts festival, and you were very active at your actors school as well. It does sound like you had a natural talent for dancing to begin with…
Sayashi: Not at all. But I did get to often be in the center at my actors school as well, so that was a big source of confidence for my young self. I’m someone who’s always quick to get bored of things, but dancing was different — I just couldn’t stop. I became convinced that dancing was my most treasured thing in life.
August 8, 1981 — Hokkaido
1997/09/14 ~ 2005/01/30
Iida: You know, the “nee, waratte” in “Daite HOLD ON ME!“… That expression on my face was just me doing my best. I’m someone who is usually making no progress despite really trying my best…
— But you doing was something that became another hot topic for followers of the group.
Iida: Wada, our manager at the time, was coming up with all sorts of strategies to boost Morning Musume’s popularity. He would always tell us to talk more so they would show us on TV for longer. So when we were appearing on music programs, that’s what I would always be focused on — talking more. But it wasn’t working… the cameras weren’t pointed at me, so I felt like I was danger. “Oh no! They’re not going to give me any airtime all!” And that’s why I went too far. That’s why I was established as being the “weird one.”
— This time around, though, you giving it your all did produce results.
Iida: It came as a total surprise to me, too. That’s why I decided to throw away my “orthodox idol” image and choose the screen time instead. (laughs) Tsunku♂ apparently felt that I didn’t have to play the role of the comedian if I didn’t want to, but it wasn’t something I was really doing consciously.
November 7, 1994 — Tokyo
Iikubo: Even now I still have no idea why I was accepted. (laughs) Tsunku♂ listed a couple of reasons for picking me. “You have a pure personality, an aura that stands out, and your singing is good.” None of those descriptions feel like they quite fit me… (laughs)
10th Generation’s Eldest Daughter
— He may have gotten that from your gentle way of speaking and that unique atmosphere you have about you.
Iikubo: I used to not really understand what people meant when they said things like that about me. But looking back on our old footage now, I suppose it is quite rare to come across a 2nd grade high schooler from Tokyo who’s that naive. Maybe that’s what he meant by “pure.”
— Was that due to the environment you were raised in?
Iikubo: No. I believe I received a perfectly normal upbringing, and I did have those gyaru-types around me, too. We had a strict curfew in my household… but that’s pretty much it.
October 20, 1988 — Kanagawa
2001/08/26 ~ 2012/05/18
Niigaki: Some time ago I was doing a shoot for a TV program where they had pictures from the times of our respective debuts lined up, and I realized how the members in them all looked different depending on the era. I don’t just mean our makeup and our hairstyles, but the whole “feel” of the pictures themselves.
20 years… It really is a piece of history. I was a member of the group for half of that — 10 years. The beginning was so incredibly difficult for me, but I think if I had to choose, it was the latter half of my time as a member that left the bigger impression on me. This was when we were the seniors; when our seniors had all left and it was up to just me and Ai-chan to take responsibility of Morning Musume. That was the era of my Morning Musume life that to me felt the most profound.
— You joined the group in 2001. “The☆Peace!” was a hit and the group was smack in the middle of its Golden Era.
Niigaki: I loved Morning Musume. My first impression of them was that it was this group of older girls singing really cool, mature songs, and then when the 4th generation joined I came to like them even more since they were around the same age as me. That’s when I first started going to their concerts, too. You couldn’t apply to their auditions until you were in junior high school, so I just waited patiently until that day and I let my parents know I wanted to apply.
For those of you who have made it this far into the book, I’m sure you’re by now well aware of just how much I love women and how much I think about them. But was I also able to convey to you my even greater passion for this thing called “music”?
Well, in any case. I feel like I still haven’t said all I have to say. That’s why I’m now writing this afterword.
To be honest with you, when I first took on the job of producing Morning Musume I never expected society to accept the group to the extent that they now have. Getting to appear on Kouhaku, creating new units using the members of Morning Musume… to say nothing of getting to write this very book. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine these things to happen. Ha ha ha.
Why did people take such an interest in Morning Musume and Taiyou to Ciscomoon? When I think about it now, it must’ve been because of the individual charms of each and every member.
When they’d only just debuted, me and the staff around me would be giving them all sorts of advice in an attempt to draw out those charms. When the cameraman said he was going to take close-up shots, some members would take that as a sign that they themselves needed to physically walk closer to the camera — that was the extent to which they knew nothing at all. Other members, we’d literally have to teach them how to hold a microphone. But now that they’re popular and they’ve become confident, they’ve also become better performers than I could’ve ever imagined.
This might sound weird, but I feel like a father who is looking at his daughters and thinking, “you’ve gotten so big…” It’s almost to the extent where it makes me tear up just thinking about it. (Man, have I gotten old…)
The gradual appeal of a highly self-conscious woman
You probably know this already, but I happen to like women who are exceptional.
Even when I was in kindergarten, I would spare no effort in trying to attract the attention of girls around me. I would be challenging all types of different girls. But even for someone like me there’s one type of girl who I’m not very good at dealing with, and that’s someone who comes across as being highly self-conscious. That’s not to say I dislike girls like that; it’s simply that I’ll find myself arbitrarily deciding, “someone like her probably wants nothing to do with someone like me.“
I feel that Abe is most likely that type of a girl.
What sorts of things would make me think that a girl was highly self-conscious? First of all, one characteristic of girls like that is that most of the time they’re very serious in nature. Even when they’re with their male friends they never get too crazy — they never forget to remain at least somewhat graceful and mild-mannered.
Also, they have an air about them that makes it feel like it wouldn’t be okay to lightly whack them on the head if they were being silly. If the members were all just ordinary friends of mine, I could easily picture myself giving a head whack to girls like Yaguchi or Iida for example. But with Abe, I just don’t think I could. Someone like Moritaka Chisato is like that, too — no matter which way you look at it, doesn’t it just feel strange to even think about giving a whack to someone like Moritaka Chisato? To give another example: I could see myself whacking Utada Hikaru’s head, but the bar would be set much higher with Amuro Namie’s head. I could probably give Hamasaki Ayumi a poke — not an especially strong one, just something to convey that she was being silly.
I wonder where these individual differences between girls come from?
Time to give up the straightforward approach!
One of the great things about Morning Musume I’ve discovered through working with them is how there’s no sense of anyone in the group ever fishing for attention. It’s a group of young girls so there’s obviously a strong sense of rivalry and of everyone always trying their hardest to learn, but none of them will ever come up to me and go “look how hard I practiced!” or something.
You know how there are some kids who will only try and look good in front of the teachers? “Hey, you were being lazy a minute ago! Why are you suddenly pretending like you’re helping with the cleaning?!” Kids like that — the same ones who will then go up to the teacher and ask, “teacher, what should I clean up next?” There’s no one like that in Morning Musume. They’re lovable, they’re earnest, they’re constantly trying their hardest, but there’s no feeling whatsoever of them trying to get others to notice. They’re always prepared for what might come, but they’ll show no signs of it during the day. That’s something that makes them so lovable for me.
For example, imagine that your girlfriend came up to you and she didn’t say something like “I did some cleaning,” or “I prepared your lunch box for you.” Instead… say you asked her, “could you prepare me my lunch box for tomorrow?,” and she’d just answer you “sure thing” like it was nothing. And then while she was preparing it for you, she wouldn’t be making a big deal out of it — she’d simply get it done, just like that. That’s how the atmosphere is within Morning Musume. They’re truly doing their best, but they deliberately make it a point to not show it. They do it all in a nonchalant manner, making it so that no one around them has to be concerned about them either.